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The 2003 Album


So here we are at the end of another album, and the 'end' of this group of five albums. When I began this Surimono Album project five years ago, I had absolutely no idea how many albums I would make or how long the series would continue. In fact, at the time that the first set was getting under way, I still wasn't perfectly confident of actually being able to make the prints I was planning to include. Up to that point, my printmaking activities had been tightly bound up with the creation of the Hyakunin Isshu print series, and I had very little experience with making any other type of print.

The Surimono Albums were conceived partly to address this inexperience - to provide me with a structure within which I could investigate many of the interesting facets of traditional Japanese woodblock prints; so many wonderful images ... so many wonderful techniques ... all waiting for me to explore!

It has worked out far better than I could have imagined. Although I can't remember my thinking of five years ago in clear detail, I am sure that if you had shown some of these recent prints to me at that time and told me that I would soon be able to do such work, I would have been rather skeptical ... But here I am five years later, and here are the prints; evidence that it has been a very productive and educational time for me.

The next question is "Where do I go from here?", and I have to say immediately that I am not 'finished' with making Surimono Albums. Although I am going to work on a different project for the balance of this year, I fully intend to continue extending the surimono series; as they so perfectly give both of us what we need - I the printmaker with a venue for expanding my skills, and you the recipient with a collection that (hopefully!) will never be boring or stale.

The Surimono Albums will return!

* * *

Over the years - and I am speaking of the years that have passed since Japan opened up to the west - quite a number of westerners have become interested in Japanese printmaking. People from many countries have come here, picked up knives and barens, and set to work making woodblock prints. But with one exception, all these people have approached printmaking from an artist's point of view; making sketches of something that interests them, then preparing the blocks, cutting the design, and finally doing the printing. There are at least a half-dozen such people working here in Japan even as I write this, and some of their work is very interesting and attractive. But I mentioned 'one exception' and of course, that is myself. I do not have an artist's point of view, but a craftsman's. Now there is no right and wrong here, and of course there is room for both types, but there is one question in all this to which I have never been able to find an answer - why am I the only one? Why are there not many people doing what I do?

If one looks at other fields, in fact almost any other field - Early Music, old-fashioned press-type printing, boatbuilding ... - you will find an abundance of people studying and practicing the craft using original old methods. In many cases there are so many people doing this that they have formed groups and international societies.

But why is it that nobody else on this planet other than me seems to be interested in making reproductions of traditional Japanese prints? The prints themselves are hugely interesting to foreigners, and Japanese culture in general is a topic of immense attraction to people from all over the world; these two facts would seem to guarantee a steady stream of people heading over here to do what I do. But there are none. A stream of young Japanese people goes to Italy to learn to make old-style violins, but where is the corresponding stream headed in the other direction to study traditional printmaking?

Perhaps I should be thankful for this, after all, it means that I have no competition! Actually though, I would very much welcome the entry of other people into this field. A person can run a marathon by himself, but what a difference it would make to hear some footsteps coming up behind and gaining!

Thank you all very much! I hope you will treasure this album, and will enjoy the viewing as much as I have enjoyed the making!

April 2004
David Bull
Seseragi Studio, Ome City, Tokyo

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